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More "happy talk" on the DoD blogger’s roundtable - the Ft. Bragg barracks problem
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The title, of course, refers to Oliver Willis' uninformed assumption that only right-wing bloggers are allowed on the DoD's blogger's roundtable and that all we hear is "happy talk". Of course neither of those assumptions is true, but the one I participated in yesterday was far from anything which could be characterized as "happy talk".

You remember this video of the barracks at Ft. Bragg that I commented on last week.

Well, yesterday I got an opportunity to talk with BG Dennis Rogers, deputy director of operations and facilities for Installation Management Command, and also Command Sergeant Major Debra Strickland, command sergeant major for Installation Management Command.

To make it a little clearer, IMC is in charge of all of the facilities on Army installations. That would include the barrack in question.

Both the general and CSM went through fairly lengthy opening statements which I can summarize as "there's no excuse, we let our side down, we take responsiblity, a failure of the chain of command, but here are the details."

I got to ask my questions or, voice my concerns if you will, late in the conversation as most of those who had gone before me (such as John Donovan, Matt "Blackfive" Burden and others) had covered most of the controversy. But listening intently I heard some stuff that still didn't satisfy me, and regardless wanted the opportunity to express my disappointment to those who needed to understand it and could actually do something about it. Below is my portion of the Q&A. You can read the whole transcript here. All of this was done while holding on to a cell phone while driving through Atlanta traffic - isn't technology wonderful?

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Now I wasn't completely satisfied at all with some of the answers given. Unfortunately we were running out of time and you have to give the other folks a chance to participate and ask their questions. And I did, in fact, appreciate both of them coming on and talking to us about this.

But, for instance, when CSM Strickland answered my question about "new processes" in place to preclude this sort of thing happening again I didn't get a warm fuzzy.

She said:
We have reenergized, I believe, the leadership's responsibility, and their role in ensuring that our soldiers are treated appropriately, and that we - that we stay engaged in the barracks.
Now this is just me talking, but leadership shouldn't have to be "reenergized" in this regard. Maybe I'm old school, but ensuring my soldiers "are treated appropriately" was never something I or any of my peers needed 'reenergizing' about. This shouldn't be something that requires increased command visibility, this is something that should always be of the highest visibility to all commanders all the time.

As you'll see in the transcript, they have, in fact, put some new things in place to try to ensure a reoccurrence doesn't take place, but still, as I noted, there was already a unit living in that barrack prior to the arrival of the infantry unit. If that barrack was "unacceptable" for the infantry troops, why was it apparently acceptable for the reserve unit? That went, essentially, unanswered.

The mold problem, in my view, is probably the most serious problem. And while the CSM tried to downplay the concern, I wasn't buying ... and again, given the time constraint, wasn't able to really push the subject. And again, I wondered, what in the world was that reserve unit doing billeted in that mess.

I understood the point about the pipe breaking which led to the flooding in the latrine. And the CSM said they had zeroed in on why that happened and how they'll modify future checks to try to ensure it doesn't happen again. And while peeling paint is a problem and possible health hazard (50's era barracks painted well before there was any prohibition against lead based paint), the mold concerned me the most.

Of course, with a presidential race going on, we now have this turning into a political event:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview Tuesday that she will call for a congressional hearing in response to an online video that shows poor living conditions at barracks on Fort Bragg.

The Fayetteville Observer first reported Friday that Ed Frawley, the father of an 82nd Airborne soldier, uploaded a video to YouTube showing peeling paint, exposed pipes, mildewed ceilings and showers, a broken toilet seat and a bathroom floor covered in sewage because of a clogged drain. Since last week, the video has logged more than 91,000 views on YouTube.

In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon with the Observer, Clinton said from Indiana that she asked Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to hold a hearing on Fort Bragg’s barracks and the broader issue of the conditions troops are returning to on installations across the country.

“Something went terribly wrong here,” said Clinton, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee. “We’ve asked these young soldiers to risk their lives and bear brutal living conditions ... and when they return home, the least we can do is offer them decent, clean living conditions.”
I don't disagree at all with any of her points, I'm just not sure it warrants a Congressional hearing. And if you read the article, you'll see BG Rogers quoted in there as well.

As I told BG Rogers and CSM Strickland, it isn't the combat or the long tours that run most of our soldiers off, it is things like those barracks that do it better than anything. More than anything I appreciated to opportunity to get across to them the outrage of the citizenry as to how our troops had been treated. And I got the feeling they understood that completely.

The Army is involved in a huge facilities upgrading project just about everywhere, and I appreciate the heck out of that and believe the soldiers deserve the best when it comes to their living conditions back here in the states. But as my Battalion commander with the 82nd used to say, "it only takes one 'aw, sh!t' to wipe out a 'hundred attaboys'". Let's hope this puts the IMC and everyone else involved back on the "attaboy" trail.
 
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i have a question why is the army even in the business of permanently housing soldiers at all? they should just give all soliders a real bah and let them go out and get their own place. or they could contract out to different housing companies so the burden of maintance is on a third party company. for visiting training soldiers just put them on post hotels. having the army to maintain barracks just creates a economic caste system. the officers and senior ncos are better then you so they get houses and the lower enlisted get to live in crappy barracks 2 or 3 to a room. it also creates needless time wasting chores like cutting grass, painting etc etc. are we soldiers or are we carpenters and painters? all that land thats used for base housing could be turned into training areas increacing the training capacity of the army. the army should be focusing on soldiering skills not having to be landlords.
 
Written By: slntax
URL: http://
Because the barracks are paid for very quickly when the amount of BEQ necessary to do that is compared against them.

There’s also a readiness requirement for many units - the 82nd, for instance, maintains a QRF company, on a rotating basis, which is locked down in their barracks and must be ready to go wheels-up within 3 hours of notification. I’m not sure how you do that without having an existing barrack in which most of the company already lives and in which most of that company’s equipment is stored.

Lastly, these barracks also contain company headquarters, weapons and equipment storage areas and platoon/squad training areas. The barrack portion is probably the cheapest part of all of that to build and maintain, and, even without barracks, buildings to house the mentioned functions would have to be built. They call ’em barracks but they are, in reality, multi-function buildings.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
I had occasion to visit Ft Meade and Ft Lee, both in the early 70’s. The section of barracks our group whioe at Meade was was older, and hadn’t been used in a while. (To date it, I have memories of "riders on the storm" being the hot single that week... and to match the mood, it rained all damned week)

One got the decided impression they’d not been used for a while at least. The urinal in the place, as we found out with some wet feet, had a bit of brass piping missing in the drain line. Lead paint of course was there, and dust. We couldn’t do much about the paint or the pipe, but we were able to clean the place up fairly well with a 40 man afternoon effort and a few dozen bottles of bleach, which seemed to do fairly well with the mold, too, as we found. Stayed for a week in each location. Worth every penny we paid for it, though, so what the hell.



Based on this experience I have but one observation; I was of the perhaps mistaken impression that the people living there, were responsible for the basic cleanliness of the place, (Certainly, that was the case in those older buildings where actual soldiers were housed, at Meade when we visted) but they didn’t seem to have gone so far in what we saw in the vid. Why was the mold situation so bad in the place in the vid? Were the people who were there unable to keep the place clean themselves? Or was the maid not doing her job?


 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Based on this experience I have but one observation; I was of the perhaps mistaken impression that the people living there, were responsible for the basic cleanliness of the place, (Certainly, that was the case in those older buildings where actual soldiers were housed, at Meade when we visted) but they didn’t seem to have gone so far in what we saw in the vid. Why was the mold situation so bad in the place in the vid? Were the people who were there unable to keep the place clean themselves? Or was the maid not doing her job?
There are certain things you can do and others you can’t. The things you saw fall far outside the routine maintenance you talk about (you can’t cap sewer pipes, and they really don’t have the safetly equipment with which to scrape lead based paint or attack the mold). Yes, they are responsible for keeping a certain level of cleanliness, but, given how mold is almost treated as a biohazard complete with hazmat suits used to clear it, that was far above anything they should be tackling.

And that was my point to the CSM ... if this barracks was so awful that the infantry unit should never have been housed there, why in the world was anyone housed there previously?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.QandO.net
given how mold is almost treated as a biohazard complete with hazmat suits used to clear it, that was far above anything they should be tackling.
Well, perhaps this is a larger point, that I’ve swerved into, then;

The difference, then to now, is how we treat things from a legal standpoint. I suppose that conversation to encompass far more than the military, but it strikes me as interesting nevertheless. I mean, in the example I cited, we’re a bunch of teens to 20 somethings, what do we know? And certainly none of the regulations about such matters was written, yet. So, we dove in and cleaned it up. Did pretty well, too. Got a nice note from the base commander about how we’d left the place better than we’d found it, and we were welcome back anytime because of that. Very pleased, he was. And we apparently took no harm from it. Far as I know,the whole group is still alive. I make no heroic comparisons, here. Noting at all unusual about it at the time, far as we knew, past the commanders note.

Today, you need to call in the federal hazmat team and get 47 environmental forms signed off on, and Al Gore to make the sign of Gaia over the site before you can respond to an issue. Even then yu stand the risk of a lawsuit by someone figuring to make a buck off the system. Can our new attitude on such matters be part of the problem, I wonder?
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Wasn’t one of my (spit!) Senators, Boxer or Feinstein, on a Senate committee that is supposed to oversee military housing? Or maybe it was the VA hospital system?
 
Written By: Paul
URL: http://
"there’s no excuse, we let our side down, we take responsiblity..."

I seem to have that ’I take full responsibility’ sh** quite a lot in the last few years, from a lot of different sources. I will believe it when someone actually pays a price for scr*wups like this.



" "new processes" in place to preclude this sort of thing happening again"

Horse hockey. It ain’t the process, it’s the person who mucks up. I am extremely tired of all the ’broken system’ excuses, which serve only to enable the folks in charge to avoid any real repercussions.

"We have reenergized, I believe, the leadership’s responsibility,.."

"reenergized"??? Just what the f*** does that mean in English? Unless she was referring to the repeated application of a cattle prod to various sensitive areas of the body, this is just more bureaucratic (dare I say ’lifer’?) BS.


"what in the world was that reserve unit doing billeted in that mess."

To me, that is prima facie evidence of dereliction of duty. This was not, obviously, an isolated incident, which answers one of my questions from the previous post.

****************************
"it also creates needless time wasting chores like cutting grass, painting etc etc."

Combat units (infantry, artillery, armor) can’t train all the time. Infantry units especially, since they have more manpower (or should I say personnel?), have a lot of man-hours (oops, again) to fill, and chores like this fill the time and keep the troops busy. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, dontcha know. It is also cheaper and more secure than hiring civilians to do the work. As the saying goes, ’It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it’. On the positive side, look upon it as acquiring useful skills for civilian life.


"I’m just not sure it warrants a Congressional hearing"

You obviously have more faith in the military bureaucracy than I do. As odious as Congressional hearings are, how else does one get information out in the open and kick the military bureaucrats’ posteriors to get them moving? Like any other organization, left to its own devices the military will conceal problems and bad news, allow problems to fester and go unresolved, and generally engage in self-serving behavior.

 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
You obviously have more faith in the military bureaucracy than I do.
You really trust a Democrat Congress more?
You and I need to talk, I think.

;-/

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
If the troops in the building previously were transitional... guard units... that would explain a lot of why it was "okay" for them and not "okay" for the regular army getting back from Iraq.

It also explains the Walter Reed fiasco.

It also explains why I never made any official complaint or told anyone who mattered that my matress in Biloxi had bedbugs.

It has to do with responsibility and chain of command dynamics... it’s only *my* problem if it’s actually *my* problem. And since tech school is only 9 weeks and I’m rather stressed and rather busy fighting with the idiot trying to screw up my impending PCS to Clark... those needing to know about bedbugs don’t get told.
 
Written By: synova
URL: http://
"You really trust a Democrat Congress more?"

I trust neither. Nor would I trust a Republican Congress. It’s a checks and balances, lesser of evils thing. Having Congressional hearings is probably marginally more effective at exposing and solving problems than leaving it solely in the hands of any one bureaucracy, military or civilian.


"If the troops in the building previously were transitional... guard units... that would explain a lot of why it was "okay" for them and not "okay" for the regular army getting back from Iraq."

That may explain the lack of complaints, but it does not explain the failure of the chain-of-command to do its job. There are folks whose full time job it is to inspect the facilities and ensure they meet specs. There are also annual CMMIs (Command Maintainance Management Inspection), and AGIs (Adjutant General’s Inspection) which put the fear of G*d into commanders. Failure of these inspections frequently leads to relieving the commander and shortening his/her career. I think such action would be appropriate here, it is just unclear how far up the chain the problem goes. I hear that competition for promotion is pretty intense, and this seems to be as good a reason as any to relieve some of that tension.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
"Explain" is not "excuse."

 
Written By: synova
URL: http://
I trust neither. Nor would I trust a Republican Congress. It’s a checks and balances, lesser of evils thing. Having Congressional hearings is probably marginally more effective at exposing and solving problems than leaving it solely in the hands of any one bureaucracy, military or civilian.
My comment was intended as a light snark, but frankly, this has me concerned.

Congressional Democrats have a history of, in my lifetime, using such events, as props for elections, and then ignoring it all once the elections are through. More recently such nonsense is used as a tool to dismantle the Military, and frankly, given the only place they don’t like green is the Military, I have to wonder if this wouldn’t get used as just another wedge to toss out against the WOT.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us

 
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